Looking Back: Class of 2016 Reflects

With Commencement fast approaching, graduating students tell us about the moments that mattered.

Joe McDonald
Joe McDonald's top moment at GW: winning the 2016 NIT championship. (Story photos by William Atkins, Zach Marin, Rob Stewart and Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
May 11, 2016

Commencement at the George Washington University is only a few days away, which means it is time for reflections, bucket lists and—if this rain ever stops—maybe a few more nostalgic walks around the neighborhood. GW Today spoke with a group of seniors during their final weeks on campus about their favorite GW memories. Here is what they had to say:

Joe McDonald, Organizational Sciences

Life has been pretty surreal for Joe McDonald the past few weeks. The final season of his college basketball career is over. He just completed his last class assignment.

Things are quiet.

“I don’t have anything left to do,” he said, laughing. “It’s allowed me to think back on everything. I’m trying to appreciate it all while I’m still here.”

There is a lot to appreciate. Mr. McDonald—along with classmates Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen—helped lead a GW men’s basketball renaissance during their four years in Foggy Bottom, winning 20-plus games the past three seasons, reaching the 2014 NCAA tournament and winning the 2016 National Invitational Tournament championship.

Along the way, he developed a passion for leadership studies, selecting the topic as an independent study during his junior year and for his senior project in organizational sciences.

“I kind of tie it into basketball,” Mr. McDonald said. “It’s been a joy learning more and more about leadership and the role it plays in organizations, on teams, in any field. That was a bright spot in my academic career.”

His top overall moment: the NIT championship run.

“It felt like we did something so great, not just for ourselves, but for our community, our program, for GW,” Mr. McDonald said. “I think it was a perfect ending.”

Katherine Bradshaw, English and Classics

With a perfect 4.0 GPA, Katherine Bradshaw was one of this year’s Distinguished Scholars in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. She plans to complete her master’s in English at GW next spring.

“I came to GW as a Shakespeare nerd,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “I really can’t imagine a better college. It’s been perfect for me because of the professors who mentored me, encouraging me to pursue a fusion of the classics and the Shakespeare I love.”

She hopes to pursue a doctorate degree and become a college professor herself, by “the combination of wisdom and genuine interest in everyone” she found in Professor of Classics Elizabeth Fisher, who “has been steering me throughout my whole college career.”

A two-time Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellow, Ms. Bradshaw spent time in England researching the classical sources for masterpieces such as King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.

One of the highlights of her studies abroad, Ms. Bradshaw said, “is the moment I was sitting in the British Library, and I go up to the counter to get some books I’d requested, and they hand me this little book of Latin quotes. I open it, and it’s dated 1563: I’m holding something that was from the 16th century, a book that would have been used by an early modern schoolboy. It was an amazing trans-temporal experience, this connection of history and literature, and to realize that in that moment, I’m a part of it.”

Ben Sanders, Theatre and Dance

Ben Sanders danced his way through four years at GW, and now he looks back at all the fellow dancers and mentors who guided him. 

"My time at GW has been filled with a myriad of tremendous opportunities and experiences. During the past four years I have traveled to Suriname with Professor Dana Burgess on behalf of the State Department and performed at the Kennedy Center three times, at the National Portrait Gallery twice, and at the National Gallery of Art,” Mr. Sanders said.

“These and other moments were all very formative for me, but without my home in the Department of Theatre and Dance I would not have been able to have these experiences.

“Many of my greatest memories revolve around the people I met through the Department of Theatre and Dance. The professors, staff and students each have a unique place in my heart. These people have been my mentors and friends, they have pushed me to be better, they have told me hard truths that I needed to hear, and they have been there to support me through whatever I was going through.

“People say, 'You are who you surround yourself with,' and I'm glad I've surrounded myself with this lovely group of friends."

Samantha Brew, International Affairs

From professional athletes to Supreme Court justices, Samantha Brew has had her share of “only at GW” encounters.

“I’ve had some unbelievable experiences,” she said. “I did an internship with the American Foreign Service Association and got to meet John Kerry. In my introduction to video production class, we had press passes at a Wizards game so some of us could go down on the floor. We took pictures of John Wall. We met the director of communications for the Wizards. That was unforgettable. And when Justice Sotomayor came to Lisner, I got to meet her, which was so inspiring.”

Ms. Brew is a winner of the Stephen J. Trachtenberg Scholarship. She said her fellow scholars have been a key support system during her time at GW.

“I’ll never forget the day I won the SJT scholarship,” she said. “President Knapp came to my school with George, and my high school mascot, the Phoenix, was with them. I was in biotech at the time. They all walked into the classroom, and I thought, ‘What is going on?’ My heart was beating so hard. Then President Knapp said my name, and I was just overwhelmed.”

Extracurriculars have been an important part of Ms. Brew’s life at GW. She was co-creative director of the African Students’ Union, organizing a flash mob at J Street and annual events like the Taste of Africa. But she said the social opportunities presented by college life were hard to resist at the beginning of her GW career.

“Partying kind of impacted my GPA my freshman year,” she admitted. “I was told I wouldn’t be able to get certain opportunities or internships. But I had really remarkable advisers in the Career Center who saw past that and helped me prove my potential, and because of that I was able to get internships with AFSA, with the State Department, with the Congressional Research Service. I say that for other students who might have similar journeys in the future: Don’t let obstacles or mistakes or getting off focus throw you off track. You can still achieve. Don’t let those things hinder you.”

Isaac Reynoso, Political Science

Isaac Reynoso’s life at GW has been packed with experiences. He completed internships with Depinto Morales Communications (a Los Angeles area-based consulting firm) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. After graduation, he will begin a job in D.C. at the Furman Group, a lobbying firm for water infrastructure projects in his home state of California, which is entering its fifth year of statewide drought.

“I have had this idea of being a lobbyist for the last six years or so. To actually make that happen is fantastic, it’s exciting,” he said. “To be able to lobby for water infrastructure in the communities I grew up around means a lot to me. It’s my way of giving back to my community.”

But some of Mr. Reynoso’s favorite moments at GW have nothing to do with politics and government.

As a freshman, he and his roommates would walk along the monuments late at night—“at 1, 2 in the morning,” he said—and slide down the big marble railings flanking the main stairs of the Lincoln Memorial. The Cisneros scholar also enrolled in as many English classes as possible, including two taught by Associate Professor Antonio Lopez.

“I took his classes on the intersection of Latino and Asian Americans and on literature of the Americas—North and South America and the Caribbean,” Mr. Reynoso said. “He has you look at literature and dissect it and see how it's reminiscent of the greater overall culture. The way he taught his classes, the energy he brought to it, made him my favorite professor at this school.”

William Murphy, Biomedical Engineering

William Murphy took an extraordinary path to GW. It turned out to be only the beginning.

Despite receiving a merit scholarship and an alumni grant, Mr. Murphy was still short financially of what he needed to attend college in 2012. He penned a letter to the financial aid department, explaining his situation and informing them he wouldn’t be able to attend the university.

“Then my mom got a call during the summer saying I was going to get a scholarship [the Nelson and Michele Carbonell Endowed Scholarship],” Mr. Murphy said. “That’s when we finally knew I was going to be able to attend GW. It was amazing. It’s really the only reason I’ve been able to attend. It really meant a lot.”

The four-year scholarship changed everything, Mr. Murphy said. It enabled him to come to Foggy Bottom and enroll in SEAS. Eventually, it led him to cancer research, where he has explored using cold atmospheric plasma as a cancer therapy. Mr. Murphy will spend the next year as a research associate with Professor Emilia Entcheva, a pioneer in cardiac optogenetics (a technique that uses light to control cells).

“She wanted to start a new cancer research project, and I knew I wanted to stay in cancer research,” Mr. Murphy said. “She’s a high-impact professor doing a lot of really cool work. I’m excited to start working with her.”

He’s also excited for Sunday. He hopes to introduce his mother and brother to the Carbonells. Mr. Carbonell is chair of the Board of Trustees.

“They’ve never really met before,” he said. “It would be really great to get everyone together.”

Claire Crawford, International Affairs

The current Elliott Undergraduate Scholar plans to pursue an M.A. in conflict resolution at Georgetown University and hopes to one day join the diplomatic corps with the goal of becoming ambassador to a country in southern Africa.

Ms. Crawford’s research has focused on the generation of black South Africans born in the post-apartheid era, comparing their understanding of freedom with that of black millennials in the United States.

“Last summer, I interned at the Department of State, and in the first week, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really what I want,’” Ms. Crawford said.

When the South Sudan desk officer asked her to draft a policy memo relating third-term African presidencies to corruption theory, she recalled, “I was really nervous. It was my first assignment, and I knew everyone was going to read this, and it was going to go to the embassy.”

Then she realized that she did, in fact, know exactly what she was doing: “I’d already written something like this for my Africa Problems and Solutions class.” Taught by Professorial Lecturer David Shinn, former ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, the Elliott School course was full of firsthand accounts that gave invaluable context to the subject matter, Ms. Crawford said. “It was great to hear his experiences and understand how we can be influential,” she said.

Pranav Kaul, International Public Health, International Health

Pranav Kaul and GW alumnus Parth Chauhan, B.A. ’13, are now business partners in HomeGrown Farms. They took home 10 cash and in-kind prizes at the New Venture competition this year.

But they met on a very different kind of team.

“My New Venture teammate, Parth Chauhan, I actually met on the dance team GW Raas,” Mr. Kaul said. “He was my captain when I was a freshman dancer. I barely knew how to put my feet on the ground. I’d danced at family occasions, but never competitively. We spent a lot of time together: It’s 16 hours of practice a week, plus competition weekends.”

The two ran into each other again at the New Venture kickoff last September.

“At the time I was thinking about some kind of health startup idea, but it was very vague. Parth asked me if I had a team, and I said no, and they said, ‘Do you want to join ours?’” Mr. Parth remembered.

“Winning the New Venture competition was an electric feeling. Nothing processes. You just get really excited and then two weeks later you go, ‘Oh wait, that happened, and it was awesome.’”

As his college career draws to a close, Mr. Kaul has enjoyed reconnecting with friends from his earliest days at GW.

“I’m going with my freshman year roommates back to Thurston later this week,” he said. “We’ll pop into our rooms, meet with our neighbors, things like that. I’ve seen my old Colonial Inauguration group, my old GWBound group.”

Mr. Kaul will stay in D.C. after graduation, working to establish partnerships for HomeGrown.

“I’m just excited about the future,” he said. “There’s so much ahead.”